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Health officials in Victoria are asking for public feedback in a bid to open two supervised drug consumption sites in a city where overdoses are continuing to surpass other regions in the province.
Public health officer Dr. Richard Stanwick said residents can respond to an online survey or provide emailed feedback to the Vancouver Island Health Authority and the city until Dec. 2. Officials expect to submit applications to the federal government by the end of next month, and a proposal for a third facility may be included, Stanwick said.
"When we were told our death rate was 137 per cent higher than previous years and we were the worst health authority in the province in terms of per capita deaths, it was obvious that we had to do something," he said Tuesday.
Stanwick said the use of the overdose-reversing drug naloxone has reduced deaths but not by enough.
"In some cases the bloody fentanyl is so strong that it may take four or five and even six doses of naloxone to reverse the effects," he said. "We just got our latest report from the monitoring system we have in our emergency departments and the number of people coming in for overdose services is four times higher than this week last year."
One of proposed sites would be embedded into an existing clinic that offers mental-health and addictions outreach teams and street nurses who care for a vulnerable population, Stanwick said. The second location would start anew with similar services and include opioid-substitution therapy, he said, adding health-care costs from infections, for example, would be greatly reduced.
"Some are homeless and some are marginally housed," Stanwick said of the drug users who are falling prey "to the power of (fentanyl) dependency."
A third proposed location may be in a building occupied by residents of a former homeless site in the city, Stanwick said. A planning group has been working since January to create a proposal that would meet the needs of several groups, including people who use illicit drugs, local residents and police.
The group also looked at data on where drugs are used and where overdoses are reported. Canada currently has two supervised consumption sites, both in Vancouver, although other cities, including Montreal and Toronto, have expressed interest in creating similar facilities.
The province has called on the federal government to repeal or amend a law requiring cities to meet 26 criteria before applying to open a supervised consumption site, and Health Minister Jane Philpott has said her department will review it.
"Wouldn't it be great if they could streamline it to a single provincial application?" Stanwick said. "People are seeing the numbers rack up. In B.C. we probably have a greater sense of how acute the situation is. Seemingly, other provinces aren't seeing the numbers that we are. In terms of B.C., we need to act and act now."
The BC Coroners Service has said 555 people have died of opioid overdoses in the province between January and September of this year.